We were greeted by a hostess and brought promptly to our seats. There is a large communal seating table in the center, with smaller tables meant for two against the wall. Against the opposite wall, you will see the chalkboard menu. It is very cozy, and well decorated. It falls in line with a new trend in the restaurant business- Bring Your Own Botte(s) (BYOB) and communal seating. Smaller spaces can be used to fit more people, cutting the owner's rent cost, allowing them to pass it on to the guests. The BYOB also allows guests to enjoy their favorite beverages at a reasonable cost, while the owner saves himself the initial opening costs that come with liquor licenses and inventory.
Since they are BYOB, I brought a bottle of 2005 Staete Landt Pinot Noir from Marlborough, New Zealand. I figured that it would give us the flexibility to go with either meat or fish. It is an excellent bottle of wine with a pretty, floral smell accompanied by a hint of spice and licorice. The taste was of rich red berries and peppery spices, with an extremely long finish. They charge $5 corkage for a first bottle, $10 for each subsequent bottle. If you forget to bring it with, Perman Wine Selections is located just next door.
After receiving our menus, we were informed that since we arrived before 7pm, we were eligible to try a three course dinner for $25 each. That included our choice of a shared plate, entree, and dessert. The price is available Monday thru Thursday from 5 to 7 pm, and has since risen to $29, with certain choices costing up to $5 more. I went with the onion tart, lamb chops, and PB & J brioche, while my wife went with the potato leek soup, whitefish, and chocolate monte cristo.
Our first course arrived after waiting about 35 minutes- way too long for any course, let alone the first. But the food turned out great. My onion tart was made with carmelized sweet onions, surrounded by flaky delicious phyllo dough, and drizzled with truffle oil- the best I've had. I was told that Chef Andre Christopher's mother made them fresh every morning. My wife enjoyed her soup, and it was very tasty. It seems the vegetarian dishes were a natural for the place, since the chef was, in fact, a vegetarian.
Not long after we were done, our main courses arrived. My chili crusted lamb chops came with yogurt cream spinach and curried cous cous. The sides meshed well with the lamb and spices, but the meat seemed a bit lower quality, as it was chewy and somewhat dry. Overall, a decent dish for the price. My wife's whitefish was flavorful and flaky, and came with string beans and was topped with a delicious lemon butter sauce. If she did not want to take some of it home, I would've eaten it all!
Dessert was unbelievable, even being a spoof on popular lunch sandwiches. My PB & J was creamy and sweet, with soft, melt in our mouth brioche that was toasted on the outside. My wife's monte cristo was soft brioche with an egg crust, stuffed with a layer of chocolate, and accompanied by a sweet raspberry dipping sauce. They were both amazing.
Besides the long first course wait, the service was good, informative, and unobtrusive. Our waters were constantly filled, but our server was a bit hard to get when we needed him- he seemed stretched a little thin due to the amount of tables in his station. This didn't bother us, as it allowed us to have a good time and not feel rushed.
Since our visit, much has happened at The Grocery Bistro. Chef Christopher has left, after not being paid for nine weeks, and is going up north to open Little Bucharest Bistro with owner Branko Podrumedic. It will be opening in the old Continental Cafe spot, and we should be expecting great Romanian food with a bit of the Chef's twist. The Chef's parents are also staging a boycott of The Grocery Bistro, as I have heard they were vendors, and have gone unpaid as well. Their van is parked in front with all details listed. This also leaves alot of question marks with the cuisine, as the owner has now promoted sous chef, Monica Walters. My favorite dessert sandwiches are gone, along with a few starters, but the entrees seem the same. Let's hope Chef and owner can resolve their differences, and that both new places can give us great food.
Overall, the ambience is great, and the food is definitely worth a visit, especially if you go with the early prix fixe. I will definitely be going back to check out the revised menu.